COMMENTARY: In search of a genuine public servant as MinDA chair. By Sebastian Angliongto

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/06 August) – The Aquino Administration is undoubtedly committed to starting clean and upright. Seeking improvement rather than mere change is also what Mindanaoans commit to achieve, especially for the island. With this impending appointment of a new Chair for the Mindanao Development Authority (MinDA), the Mindanaoans’ clamor for a comprehensive, integrated and faster development of Mindanao once again reverberates.

Hopes were reinforced when the search for a permanent body that will be responsible in integrating all the efforts geared toward growth and development within the island yielded fruit through the passing of Republic Act No. 9996. But more than the secured tenure of office and budget, the people fervently look forward to the embodiment of a real engine of improvement by being at the forefront of promoting and sustaining active and extensive participation of all sectors to effect the socioeconomic development of Mindanao.

Although the Mindanao Economic Development Council (MEDCo), its predecessor, has already set the groundwork by opening the island’s border to the world through BIMP-EAGA it is up to MinDA to assert a high-level of National Government Support for sustainable and serious development program for the region. It must resist becoming a mere extension of the central government or be a vexing additional layer of bureaucracy.  Furthermore, it must commit itself to be the host that will deliver the long due promise of Mindanao advancement.

In order to effectively actualize the above mandate, the Authority needs to recognize its weaknesses and consider them as areas for improvement. Having served as Chairman of the Mindanao Economic Development Council (MEDCo) in 1998 – 2001, founding chairman of Mindanao Business Council (MinBC) in 1994 – 1998, and as former National President of Philippine Jaycees Inc. in 1976 which gave me the privilege to travel all over the Philippines particularly in Mindanao, enriched my knowledge of the situation of the island.

Moreover, the privilege of a firsthand experience on the defunct Council’s undertakings made evident the key areas that require the Authority’s focal attention. Firstly, socioeconomic framework must be clearly defined. Role in the actual project implementation must be defined instead of just dwelling on the monitoring of infrastructure development or management assessment. Mindanao 2020 Peace and Development Framework Plan is being envisioned to be Mindanao’s development blueprint for the next 20 years.

It is the collaborated effort of the lead convenor, Dr. Cielito Habito, former director-general of the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA), together with the various representatives of the Lumads, Muslims, Christians and all other sectors.

The involvement of local and regional planners has been critical in assuring that the plan is crafted by the Mindanaoans themselves. This sense of accountability and ownership by the people of Mindanao is already a huge facilitating factor that the current Administration must take advantage by really pushing for the actualization of the plan.

Secondly, considering the tight budget left as pointed out by President Aquino, there must be a coherent and strategic plan on how to mechanize the synchronization of national agencies, local government units and government-owned corporation budgets as well as that of non-government finances and ODAs allocated for the pursuance of developmental projects and programs to reach maximum utilization and more importantly spare formidable resources from being squandered.

Thirdly, develop an approach that induces private sector partnership. In turn, doors will be opened for massive people mobilization. Fourthly, encourage a system of checks and balances.

The former Council has designed an Infrastructure Management Advisory Group (IMAG) that serves as feedback mechanism engaging the President and other national and regional departments by delivering reports to and from them. Moreover, this functions to monitor progress from project implementation until completion. In cases of delay, scrutinize the causes and report them directly to agencies concerned to demand for an immediate action.

This system must likely be revived to foster coordination and cooperation with the Executive, National Agencies, LGUs and other departments concerned for a more effective and efficient delivery of service.

For all these to be securely pinned in the system, we await the naming of the new Head of Office. Yet while waiting, we implore for the one who possesses the most needed qualities.

This chairmanship plays a very crucial role in setting the standards by laying the foundation tools of the organization. Granted with the qualifications as mandated by law (See Section 7 of R.A. No. 9996), the Chair must also have a strong administrative skill and will power; must have direct access to the President; must know the history and culture of Mindanao; has personality that is not that of an elitist and can jive well despite the islands’ cultural diversity and above all, one whose heart and soul think of Mindanao.

Hence, He/She will be able to generate a mandate of support and cooperation – basic prerequisites of authentic leadership. There have been some names afloat in the selection and so we put forward some people noteworthy of the Search Committee’s consideration.

Edmundo B. Prantilla, Ph.D. finished BS in Agriculture (cum laude), 1965 in University of the Philippines Los Baños and Ph.D. in Economics, Iowa State University, USA, 1972. He is a fellow in the Economic Development Institute, World Bank, Washington D.C., 1975 and has also done numerous consultancy works. Currently, he is a Professor in the School of Applied Economics, University of Southeastern Philippines, Davao City.

Another competent fellow is Armina Rasul-Bernardo, Lead Convenor of the Philippine Council for Islam and Democracy. Holds a degree of BS in Economics from the University of the Philippines and earned a master’s degree in business management from the Asian Institute of Management in the Philippines and a Master of Public Administration from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. She is a founding member of the Women in International Security-Philippines and the Muslim Women Peace Advocates-Sulu and has also been actively involved in numerous socio-civic works.

Nonetheless we stress that who we are looking for is someone who is not content with hiding in a public figure but further extends oneself as a genuine public servant.

Most people may think of this as too idealistic or nearing utopia. But the completion of peace and development initiatives in Mindanao has long been overdue. Perhaps it is time that we pursue with much vigor the actualization of this vision for Mindanao so that the country’s promise land will attain its full potential. Enough of the predictions. We already know that Mindanao is a haven of wealth and prosperity. It’s time that we make it happen. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Sebastian l. Angliongto is chair of the Mindanao Economic Development Council, 1998 – 2001; Chairman Emeritus of the Mindanao Business Council and Honorary Life Chairman of the Davao City Chamber of Commerce and Industry Inc)